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Quiet winter tourism season for Belgian coast

10:33 09/01/2023

Tourism on the Belgian coast over the festive period has dropped by about 10% compared with year, with 540,000 day-trippers paying a visit during the two weeks of winter holidays surrounding Christmas and New Year.

Levels were already down as a result of the pandemic, which saw a ban on most foreign tourists, and the weather did not help. Sunny spells were rare, with days being mostly cloudy or rainy.

This year, the highest number of visitors was on 27 December when some 60,000 tourists came to enjoy the coast, according to Westtoer, the tourist office of West Flanders.

Residential tourism is also down by 5%, with a total of 1.7 million overnight stays for Belgian residents.

Hotels on the coast recorded an average occupancy rate of 70% for the end of the year, compared with 75% in 2021.

The number of German and French tourists, however, has doubled compared to last year's Christmas holidays, while the proportion of Dutch visitors has decreased somewhat after a peak in 2021.

Westtoer explained that both the initial increase in foreign tourists and the decrease in domestic tourists were the result of the lifting of travel restrictions, which were in force during the health crisis.

The return of foreign tourists compensates somewhat for the loss of Belgian tourists and allows the coast to return to its pre-pandemic level of visitors, Westtoer said, meaning the "dip" more or less balances itself out.

Some of those who came for New Year’s took place in an old tradition: diving into the frigid North Sea.

Around 3,000 people participated this year, many in costumes, and the icy dip was followed by hot chocolate or gin to help warm up.

Written by Helen Lyons